Peruvian Aji Amarillo

Aji Amarillo, a Peruvian chili pepper, is a species lees commonly grown outside of Peru: Capsicum baccatum. Despite it’s name (amarillo=“yellow”), the long, pointed peppers are typically orange to orange-red. I’ve been growing these peppers for many years, in Virginia, USA and would like to share information to those struggling to grow this most wonderful pepper. In Peru, it is typically referred to simply as “aji”, and so when I truncate the name, you’ll know what I mean.

Before the growing details are explored, perhaps it’s good to know a bit more about what this pepper is used for and why it’s so popular. First, Aji Amarillo, in the fresh state, is unlike any pepper out there. You can control how hot it is by leaving more or less of the pale septum (“veins”) and core. Seeds are best removed, even if one wants to use the core. Seeds are gritty, sometimes bitter, and, contrary to some myths, do not add to flavor or heat. Any heat they contain is due to proximity to the “placenta”/ core, which can pack a capsaicin punch!

The flavor is clean, with a grapefruit like component. If one cuts out sections of pepper void of septa or core, it’s easier to taste this. It’s used raw, cooked or dried. While many Peruvian dishes use Aji, one of the most famous is a sauce made from pureed Aji mixed with fresh and/or feta cheeses. Hundreds of variations exist on Salsa a la Huancaina, but most of the authentic ones require Aji Amarillo, also known as “Escabeche”, named after its use in a famous group of marinated “pickled” dishes. Flavor, that’s the reason to grow it!

Sadly, fresh Aji is very scarce in the USA. There are several reasons for this. The plants need a very long growing season to size up and produce well. I start seeds, under lights, in early Feb., to plant out in May. During this time, the seedlings can get quite large and require larger pots than other peppers.

Secondly, unlike other C. baccatum species, Aji Amarillo is sensitive to high heat. At temperatures above 82.4 degrees F (28 C) the plants can go sterile, via pollen death, drop fruit, or produce low quality peppers. In much of the US, that means trying to get fruit set after summer’s heat or before it arrives, if growing in places like Florida.

The plants can get huge! There are several races of Aji Amarillo, but the tallest growing one is used primarily for dried peppers “Mirasol” in Peru. This variety is sold commercially packaged, which is where I got seed. Unfortunately, it is later, far taller, less productive than other selections. So, I don’t recommend its culture in the US or countries with a limited growing season. Even shorter growing selections, such as Escabeche grow over 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall and wide.

Currently, my plants range from about 6 feet (1.8 meters) to 7.5 feet (2.3 meters).


Strong poles and supports are necessary. The plants grow and make green peppers as weather permits. However, most of the crop is green when frost arrives in Virginia. To extend the season, I cover the plants with a hoop house, made of bent metal conduit (EMT) and greenhouse plastic.

Here, frost was possible, so the tent was closed up. During mild, sunny weather, the front and ends are opened up so sun can hit the plants without overheating. Work…sure, but it’s worth it for the flavors unattainable elsewhere!

By putting an inexpensive heater inside, a large quantity of mature peppers can be harvested at near optimal temperatures. Harvesting in September–Dec. can yield a tremendous amount of top quality peppers.

I’ll add pictures and more information as time permits. Hopefully, the above information will help troubleshoot problems encountered by those trying to grow this elusive pepper.

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I know of Aji Amarillo because it’s used to make their absolutely delicious Peruvian roast chicken. I’ve never had it fresh. I’ve had the jarred sauce that you can use in the marinade and also part of the dip for eating it. That is super tasty stuff. - very jealous that you get this fresh!

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Peruvian cuisine is outstanding! Peruvian roast chicken…drool! I rarely had even a ho-hum meal during my visits there, even at the most humble ceviche shacks on the coast. The talents of home and professional cooks there cannot be overstated. Aji is one of their many important ingredients.

There is a smaller Aji Chinchi Amarillo, which is much easier to grow, though seed is often hard to source. I grew it and was not impressed. It’s not just smaller, the flavor is not the same. Another pepper “Lemon Drop”, from Peru, is sometimes wrongly called Amarillo or, more frequently misnamed as Aji Limo. Lemon Drop is neither, though, as a C. baccatum, is the same species as Aji Amarillo. Aji Limo is a C. chinense, is typically top-shaped and red, very hot.

I’m still struggling with the best growing conditions for Aji Panca, used dried in many Peruvian dishes. One has to limit challenges to time available!

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Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I long wondered why I had never seen aji sold fresh. A mystery to me no more.

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You’re welcome, tomatotomato; if we don’t share knowledge and discoveries, what we learn has limited value.

Here, we can get frost any time now. While I’ve harvested about 20 mature peppers, many more are green.

Here’s the opened tent, with the open half facing the south:

The plants are leaning, not just towards the sun, but because of the weight of green peppers!

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@bogman, another Thank you, and those look amazing! Hope you get a nice haul. How do you store them? Do you peel them before cooking?

Last year I only harvested a few a week of the big ones, and got way too many of the little ones from Artisan. The recipe for sauce I used called for peeling the peppers, and I sure wasn’t peeling the little ones!

I did not grow the little ones this year, in fact I don’t think I grew any seedlings this year, but have just this one plant that overwintered. I am not sure if its from your seed, or seed for the larger aji from Artisan. I think they called it “grande”. but it sure isn’t 7 feet tall, but maybe that’s because it’s growing in a container.



Lots of flowers, the weather seems to have cooled of a bit, and frost is months away. I decided the biggest problem was nutritional, and there’s been quite a bit of new growth without spots. Hoping to get the older leaves “spotless” as well.

Here’s an update on the chinenses; your rocotillo and mother in law’s scotch bonnet. Lots of pepper babies on the rocatillo.


Last but not least; the rocotto.


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Shrinkrap, I’ve not peeled the Aji Amarillo, just pureed them. Mostly, I’m making a fresh Huancaina sauce which gets frozen. Pureed straight Aji is also mixed with oil and frozen, so the skin isn’t noticeable. I can see peeling if one wants to cook larger pieces or halves. Freeze drying it, as yet, unknown. However, since the puree and sauce freeze well, freeze drying should work well. Problem is, to fill the freeze drier, I’ll need 3-4 quarts of puree or sauce.

The Rocoto pepper (C. pubescens) is the most heat sensitive pepper I’ve grown. Having late season flowers, after it has cooled off, should help a lot. It’s an oddball of the capsicums: vine-like horizontal growth, black seeds, purple flowers, and it likes cool weather. I once overwintered some plants in the greenhouse and planted the 5 gallon potted Rocotos into the ground one April. The plants exploded in the cool spring, making peppers until it got warm. By fall, the plants were 20 feet across! One turned out to be yellow and had no heat. The seed came from red pods collected in Peru. So, I guess there were a bunch of variants nearby.

When splitting and coring the Aji, many of the peppers had aborted seeds, shrunken remnants from lack of fertilization. These pods typically had one to three viable seeds inside. My guess is these few viable seeds kept the plant from dropping the pods. Other fruit, seemed to have normal-looking seeds; maybe those flowers were shaded or grew during cooler weather.

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We finally have warmer weather and nights back again, after 3-4 days of 40ish, sub-40F temperatures overnight. My peppers are in full flowering and budding mode, so I was nervous about losing all those shishito peppers.

@bogman - how big do the aji amarillo peppers typically get?

Kobuta, the pepper pods themselves range from around 5–6 inches long (13–15 cm) and 1 1/2 –1 3/4 inches (4–4.5 cm) wide. Those are averages for the types I’m growing.

Plant height varies wildly, depending on growing conditions. If good conditions exist for pollination, 68-78 F (20–26 C), the plants will often put more energy into pepper production and less plant growth will occur. If flowers are aborting, weather is warm to very hot, like happens in VA, the plants are not funneling energy or resources into making peppers and the plants grow big quickly. On average, plant height ranges from about 5 1/2 feet to 6 1/2 feet (1.7–2 meters). They are larger than most other pepper varieties.

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This is the recipe I used for the paste last year.

Ihttps://perudelights.com/how-to-make-aji-amarillo-paste/

Thanks shrinkrap! I’ll have to try blanching and see if I like that method better. Given the quantities I often get, that would be a lot more work. When I was watching it being made in Peru, the cooks in the house didn’t do the blanching. But, there are countless variations, including some Huancaina sauce which contains peanuts. I once witnessed a heated argument between two Peruvian ladies, both from Cuzco, regarding the use of peanuts in that sauce!

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https://perudelights.com/how-to-make-aji-amarillo-paste/

Oooh, now all I have to do is find some fresh aji amarillo chilies. Linked to that same site you shared is an article on fried yucca and an aji amarillo dip/sauce. This was one of my most favoritest (not a word) snacks when I was younger. My good friend’s Colombian mom would make fresh fried yucca for us when we visited her house. Sooooo good!

kobuta, where are you located? Fresh Aji are hard to find in many places. I’ve never seen them in Virginia, except canned or frozen.

My neighbor’s Peruvian mother in law always peeled the peppers, but she blanched whole pods, not split ones. Then, the split the peeled pods and scraped the seeds out with a spoon. I think I’ll try that method; potentially less loss of flavor in the water.

There’s about 15 Aji to process today. Right now, the weather is perfect, warm mild days and cool nights. I hope the supports hold up!

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I’m excited just thinking about it! Can you please share a picture of a ripe one so I can see the color?

I haven’t seen the chiles but i’ve seen this in my local supermarket. Wonder how it is.

https://www.citymarket.com/p/private-selection-peruvian-inspired-aji-amarillo-marinade/0001111001204

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My first batch of 2020 frozen peppers and last batch of 2019 frozen paste.

Looks like there might be a bit of freezer burn, but it smells great.

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I’m in Boston, and I’ve never seen fresh aji amarillo before. But in all fairness, I haven’t looked either. We used to have a wonderful Latin market here, but it got gobbled up by corporate chains, so now we just get small tiny shops that don’t carry the complete span of goods or groceries.

I haven’t tried this brand, but the Inca Foods brand seems prevalent in the markets too. It’s pretty good and served its purpose for my roast chicken!

shrinkrap, doh! Saw your request after I made some sauce yesterday! I kept a few, but they are not that great for pictures.

The ones that are redder have started drying out a bit; you can tell by shriveled stem. The fresh color should be more like the orange patch on the one with green; that pepper will sit in a paper bag for a few days to finish coloring up.

It’ll be awhile before I get some more mature ones. Nights have ben around 40 F (4.4C), which is a bit too cool for maturation. I’ll stick a small space heater in the tent and bump the temperature up to around 55-60 F (13–16 C). The forecast does call for a mild warming trend.

Time was tight, so the sauce was made without blanching or peeling. Maybe next time. This was just Aji, + 50/50 Feta and Queso Blanco cheeses, processed until smooth. I freeze in jars for now, but hope to get enough to freeze dry. If you make small cubes, you can stall freezer burn by taking the frozen cubes and wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap, so there’s no air space. Putting a rubber band around the wrapped cube helps keep it tight.

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